Over the years I've seen it all during sweeps, as news management and the promotions department pull out all the stops to get viewers. I've seen all sorts of giveaways, from tanks of gasoline to trips to a used car. (Long story, cheap station, don't ask.) Now every station seems to think some sort of social networking tactic will bring eyeballs to the newscast, as if people obsessed with Twitter are more concerned with the news of the day than their cell phones. Airing the "tweet of the day" on your newscast doesn't mean you've snagged a loyal viewer. It might just mean some teenage girl can brag that her text message made it on television.
And of course those of you who are reporters are given the directive to go all out during sweeps. You must have a standup in every story! (You should be doing that anyway.) You must find interesting angles to every story! (You should be doing that anyway.) You must have great video so that we can tease every story! (You should be getting that anyway.)
In case you hadn't figured this out, the stuff you do during sweeps as far as reporting is concerned is stuff you should be doing every single day. Do we go the extra mile during sweeps? Sure. But we should go the extra mile on every story. A couple of old sayings from my former News Director: "There are no boring stories, only boring reporters." And the classic, "We're in sweeps every day."
You don't just pick up viewers in February, May and November. You get them by doing solid work in the dog days of August, or that week after Christmas.
Sweeps stunts are a lot like restaurant coupons. You might get a free meal, but if the food is lousy, you won't go back. Ironically, the free food isn't "worth the price."
Same deal with news. You might get a viewer to take a look, but if the content isn't there, they won't stick around.
The only effective sweeps stunt is a solid newscast. And it starts and ends with you, whether it's February or August.